TSA rolls out new program at LAX to better detect drones around airports

After drone sightings and even reports of a man flying in a jetpack around Los Angeles International Airport, the federal government is rolling out new technology that could better detect objects entering restricted airspace.

The project, called the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Testbed Program, is the second of its kind nationwide and will begin testing technology designed to detect, track and identify drones entering the airspace of LAX.

“If a drone were to go into space like you see with the plane taking off and landing, and a pilot having to make a quick decision and veer off the flight path they’re on, that could be a huge problem. for both passenger safety and the safety of people on the ground, it creates all kinds of challenges,” Keith Jefferies, federal director of security for the Transportation Security Administration at LAX, told ABC-owned station KABC.

Since 2021, the TSA has reported 90 visual drone sightings and 5,200 technical detections within three miles of LAX’s perimeter. This year alone, approximately 38 drones were visually detected at the airport, including one drone that was reported within 700 feet of an aircraft just before Super Bowl LVI.

Jim Bamberger, head of the TSA’s Public Area Security Infrastructure Protection Program Branch, points to a map of a drone incursion and a thermal image while talking about drone detection technology in part of the TSA Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) testbed program at LAX in Los Angeles, Aug. 25, 2022.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Additionally, several pilots landing at LAX have reported seeing a man flying high around an aircraft at the airport. While law enforcement later said the sightings could have been a life-size balloon, the agency believes the new technology would be able to detect such objects.

The agency noted that the data collected at LAX will help expand the program to other airports and raise awareness of the risks of encroachment on restricted airspace.

“A primary goal of the TSA UAS Testbed Program is to continuously evaluate relevant technologies and keep pace with ever-evolving capabilities within the UAS community,” said Jim Bamberger, Head of TSA UAS capabilities. “Together with our federal, state, and local partners and the intelligence community, we are leveraging our collective technical capabilities to prevent disruptions in the transportation sector.”

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